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AIMExpo 2016: Day 1

Friday, October 14, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Wes Fleming

I will go ahead and get this out of the way: BMW is basically a no-show this year. They have a large booth space, but there are five (that's right - FIVE) motorcycles in it: K 1600 GTL, R 1200 GS, F 800 ST, R nineT Scrambler and G 310 R.

Don't get me wrong - I totally understand. BMW had its usual large presence at Intermot, the huge powersports trade show that takes place in Cologne (Köln), Germany every other year. BMW also held its North America dealer meetings/press event in Los Angeles, California this week - and it was a doozy.

At Intermot, BMW unveiled the R nineT Racer and Pure. In LA, they showed us the K 1600 B and tore the roof off the future of motorcycling with the amazing Next 100 concept motorcycle.

They're spent. They threw down a huge double-whammy in Cologne and LA and there just isn't anything left for Orlando. The AIMExpo staff helped BMW out by putting a DJ in the booth and staffing a soda/coffee station. There's some tables and comfy chairs, but nothing else - not even any BMW employees.

Even though the G 310 R is a very cool bike and the Scrambler is fantastic even sitting still, I have to say I'm disappointed, but I do understand. I mean, as of this writing (just before midnight), I'm seeing Facebook posts from people I know attending the BMW gala events in LA - and they're still attending the BMW gala events in LA!

That means that on Day 1 this year, I was able to pay attention to all the other marques I found interesting - Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda, KTM and especially Moto Guzzi.

Moto Guzzi - part of the expansive Piaggio Group (which includes Aprilia and Vespa) - debuted their take on the bagger with the MGX-21 Flying Fortress at Sturgis in August. That was a capper on a good year for Guzzi, a year in which they celebrated their 95th anniversary with a brand-new 900cc platform and two bikes based on it, the Roamer and Bobber. They added a bike to their fun V7 II line (Stornello) and put ABS and traction control on it.

The Fortress is a long, low, impressive bike. Its matte black finish all over and batwing fairing are smartly offset by red cylinder head covers and brake calipers. The performance characteristics are good and initial ride reports are positive. It's not the high-performance bagger that is the Honda Gold Wing F6B and it might not keep up with BMW's new bagger, the K 1600 B, but it has the look.

I am an unapologetic Moto Guzzi fan, and I wasn't the least bit surprised when Piaggio's PR Manager Shane Pacillo gushed over the Fortress. He rode it for a week at Sturgis and says it's every bit as much fun as it looks. He also promised more news coming from the EICMA trade show taking place in Italy later this year. (Note: More Moto Guzzi photos at the bottom of the page.)

Aprilia backed a bike in the MotoAmerica circuit, and their commitment to sport bikes continues in 2017 with improvements to the RSV4 and Tuono models, both of which were updated and debuted at Intermot.

PS One of the highlights of my day was getting to meet and chat briefly with Wayne Rainey, who is not only one of MotoAmerica's founders, but a three-time 500cc world champ and AMA Hall of Famer. I did my best to maintain my cool and not go all fan-boy on him. I did not ask "Can I get a selfie with you?" but rather spoke to him as respectfully as possible. I'm not sure he was impressed, but at least he didn't look for the nearest emergency exit.

In addition to the motorcycles, Piaggio is celebrating Vespa's 70th anniversary this year by releasing limited edition scooters - the Settantesimo and 946 Emporio Armani - but an all-new scooter as well, the Liberty. The Liberty will be available in 50 and 150cc configurations as well as a Sport variation that tops out with an MSRP of $2,999. New LED headlights are one of the features, but the impressive thing on the Liberty is ABS brakes. ABS may be expected from BMW's C 650 maxi-scooter, but we're talking about a 150cc scooter that retails for under three grand. WITH ABS.

wait for it...

Mario Di Maria, the CEO of Piaggio Group Americas, rounded out Piaggio's presentation by assuring the media reps present that the United States is an important market for Piaggio and the group is dedicated to growing its dealer base. He said that Piaggio is committed to building its investment in the USA and is excited about that prospect.

One slightly ominous statement from Di Maria could spell some difficulty for that dealer base growth - he mentioned Piaggio's "corporate identity" for standalone dealers, something which smacks to me of homogenization of the dealer base, a trend that does not find its biggest fan with me. (I understand why they do things like this, I'm just not a big fan of the practice.)

Yamaha, Suzuki and Honda all spoke at length about new and updated models, many of which saw increased horsepower and the addition of high-tech wizardry like ignition mapping modes and traction control modes that range from off to high levels of intervention.

In the Adventure Bike segment, everybody seemed to be talking about two bikes: The Suzuki V-Strom 1000 and the Honda Africa Twin. Yes, Suzuki has completely revamped the "Wee Strom" (650 V-Strom) and added a ruggedized XT version of both the 650 and 1000cc Stroms, but the standard 1000 is the one people seem to be talking about. If you're into ADV bikes and you haven't heard of the Africa Twin, it's time to crawl out from under that rock you call home and read ... well, anything ADV bike related.

One cool thing about the new Wee Strom is that Suzuki is standardizing the luggage and accessory mounting points between the 650 and the 1000 - so if you buy accessories for one, they should fit easily onto the other if you ever decide to change platforms. Suzuki also announced that the 49-state GSX-S 750 will become a 50-state model in the 2018 model year after a complete redesign that adds eight horsepower, four-mode traction control and low-RPM assist to prevent first-gear stalling.

Yamaha didn't present an ADV bike, but they did talk about the "sport heritage" segment and its flagship SCR950, a scrambler-style bike with the V-twin engine ported over from their popular Bolt cruiser. The model they had on stage with them was a custom build from Brat Style and it was optimized for off-road use with fat knobby tires and a mile-wide swath of attitude.

Yamaha's focus was more on their sportier bikes, as it should be. The YZF-R3 with ABS will cost $5,299, raising the bar in the 300cc sportbike segment and pushing the other Japanese builders to step up. The FZ-10 is their flagship sport (not supersport) bike, though they had a brand-new FZ-09 on stage.

Derek Brooks from Yamaha's product planning division talked at length baout the FZ-09, saying their target was refining the 09's "agile, torquey character." ABS is standard, as is two-mode (plus off) traction control, fully adjustable forks, a slipper clutch and a new twin LED headlight. It's MSPR of $8,999 seems low for all that performance technology, but who am I to judge.

Center stage during Yamaha's presentation was dominated by the 2017 R6, as amazing a piece of supersport technology as exists in the segment. They've included three-mode ignition mapping, six-mode (plus off) traction control, and made it easy for the owner to install an accessory quick shifter. The fuel tank is now made of aluminum to shave some weight, and the new magnesium rear subframe helps in that regard as well. Suspension is done by KYB, with a new shock out back and fully adjustable 43mm forks up front that come from the flagship R1. Also coming over from the R1 are the axles and brake rotors, calipers and master cylinders. Amazingly, the 2017 R1 will retail for $12,199.

Italian legend Benelli is back - and being manufactured in China. Though engineered and designed in Italy, they're built in the same factory in China where SSR motorcycles are made, and SSR is North America's exclusive Benelli importer. The 302R on display is derived from the TNT 300 and features a parallel twin water-cooled engine and a six-speed transmission. SSR only has 50 dealers in the US, but they're working on building that dealer base and promise a robust customer support experience when it comes to sourcing parts for their 250cc V-twin Buccaneer Café and Classic bikes.

Mel Harris, SSR's VP of Operations, called the bikes "quality, affordable product" and pointed to Benelli's success on the racetrack, saying that the SR450S could well be the first Chinese-made motorcycle to win any mainstream racing championship.

There's not much I can add about bikes from Honda and KTM that hasn't been addressed ad infinitum on the internet, so I'll leave you with some photos of those bikes for your enjoyment.

Coming in the Day 2 report: gear, gear and more gear.

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